July 29, 2020
The deaths of two children in Southwestern Ontario in suspected impaired driving cases over the past two weeks underscore the need for harsher punishments for drinking and driving, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada’s leader says.
“It’s rare that you hear about two of these types of cases . . . in this type of short timeframe,” said MADD Canada chief executive Andrew Murie.
“Anytime it’s a child, it’s just deplorable because every . . . impaired driving crash is totally preventable.”
Monday night, a single-vehicle crash in a rural part of Chatham-Kent killed a seven-year-old girl and sent her two siblings to London hospital. A witness described the frantic effort to save the children after the vehicle flipped into a water-filled drainage ditch west of Pain Court.
Police declined to name the accused driver, who they say is the boyfriend of the children’s mother. Court records obtained by The Chatham Daily News state Ben Leveille, 34, is charged with impaired driving and criminal negligence causing death and several other charges.
The fatal crash comes not long after a two-vehicle crash near Strathroy July 17 that killed eight-year-old Nihal Toor, who lived in Virginia and was in London visiting family, after a collision between the car she was in and a second vehicle.
The crash happened at Egremont Road and Hickory Drive about 10 p.m., as Nihal and her family were on their way to London following a day at a farm in Strathroy. Alicia Van Bree, 33, of Strathroy is charged with impaired driving and operation of a motor vehicle causing death and operating a vehicle causing bodily harm.
The allegations in the two cases of suspected impaired driving have not been proven in court.
MADD Canada’s Murie said the number of cases in which children die in crashes involving impaired-driving charges is low compared to other age groups, which makes the two recent cases of alleged impaired driving in the region stand out.
“It’s a lower number than most age groups because, obviously, they have to be in a car with somebody else driving,” he said.
“The group that’s overrepresented are young drivers, that 16 to 24 age group, because they’re more willing to take risks; their alcohol and cannabis use is higher.”
Car crashes involving impaired driving in which children die are among the most traumatic for surviving family members, Murie said. “It’s just heartbreaking.”
Most of the cases in which children die also involve drivers who are sober and collide with an impaired driver, said Murie, who described cases in which kids are in the same vehicle as the impaired driver as “rare.”
Murie said MADD Canada has long advocated for all Canadian provinces to adopt laws such as those in Manitoba and Nova Scotia, where additional penalties are imposed on drivers in impaired-driving crashes. Ontario doesn’t have such a law.